Vatican Saying 60

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Template:Vatican Saying 60


This telegraphic, even cryptic aphorism allows for a number of possible interpretations. This Saying appears also in Seneca, and may well have been a common interation of some sort of folk wisdom, circulating in the ancient Greco-Roman world. (Various paraphrases of the same idea are also found in Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and numerous other sources.)

Seneca's interpretation is stern, moral, and deeply skeptical (as can be expected from a Stoic): humans leave life hardly better than they were when they came to it. Usener relates this Saying to Epicurean "symmetry", i.e. the notion that our "state" (in a disembodied sense, of course) post mortem is more or less "the same" as it was before we were born. Bignone relates this text to another tenet of folk wisdom, i.e. that we brought nothing along with us to the world, and will take nothing along with us when we depart upon our death. Bailey reads this as a reference to the brevity of life: it seems that the span from infancy to death is but an momentary instant amidst the vast continuum of time immemorial.

Yet a more directly, more cogently Epicurean interpretation may be as a reference to Epicurus' frequent grievance that we constantly postpone pleasure --the humble, measured, quotidian pleasures of an Epicurean lifestyle-- while striving for things that are terribly difficult to attain, and ultimately not at all necessary for our happiness. Lost in a rat-race after wealth, fame, or power, we hardly notice that our life is consumed in the pursuit. Thus our death comes as a surprise, even a shock. "But it seems as if I was just born yesterday!" we think in dread.

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